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3rd Sunday Lent

Lent 3.18 “All Ate Up With Zeal” John 2:13-22

  1. Lent 3.18 “All Ate Up With Zeal” John 2:13-22

I think the WWJD bracelets and t-shirts are a fad that has thankfully passed. If you missed it, good for you, you’re lucky. Basically, it was a popular appeal that we should all focus less on the Story of Christ Jesus and much more on His moral example—to spend less time worshiping Jesus, sitting at His feet listening to Him (like Mary) and more time emulating Him (like Martha) was the general idea. In other words: less creeds, more deeds; as if that were the cure for all that ails Christianity in the modern world A lot of people who don’t wear the bracelets and t-shirts still think this, I would wager; maybe a majority of Christendom?

And you’ve probably seen this, but someone sent it to me recently—it’s a Renaissance style picture of Jesus clearing the temple. He’s brandishing a whip and the tables are all flipped over and people are shielding themselves as best they can from the wrath of the Lamb of God and the caption says “The next time someone asks you, “What Would Jesus Do?” just remember that flipping over tables and chasing people with whips is within the realm of possibilities.” It was a very pretty picture and I wanted it for the bulletin cover because it really says about all I need to say on this text and a picture is worth a thousand words and all, but Maureen said “Uh, no.” And I deferred to that [probably] wise counsel. If you’re disappointed though, see me after service, because I can probably hook you up with a link to the pic…

People (many of them pastors who have to preach on this text) try to get rid of the awkwardness of this episode by two popular dodges. The first one is the old “Well, it’s sacrilegious to sell stuff in church, anyway—it’s why we don’t have bake sales. It says so in the Bible, somewhere. I’m pretty sure.” But last Wednesday we looked at Deut. 14:24-26 which says the exact opposite. Actually, it was not just a good idea for the money-changers to set up their concession stands in the temple precincts—it’s the Law! Moses commanded that such provisions be made for Israelites who had a long way to go to the tabernacle. They should sell their animals or grain offerings at home, take the money to the temple and be able to exchange it for sheep, cattle, doves (and wine!) as much as their hearts desire. Check out the passage yourself. It’s so much fun for me when the Bible confounds our high minded expectations!

The second dodge is that the money-changers were like modern hedge-fund managers and were probably selfishly over-charging the people, thereby increasing income inequality in socially damaging ways. I’m sure that makes a lovely sermon, very inspiring and all, but again, no. Nothing in the text suggests they were over-charging. If that were the problem, wouldn’t Jesus, in keeping with the Law, simply have said that?! “You’re overcharging people! Lower those prices! 50% off and put your ill-gotten gains into some charitable fund for impoverished kids and we’re good to go.” Yeah. Jesus is quite good about saying what He means.

And what He says is simply “do not make My Father’s house a house of merchandise, or a place of trade or a marketplace”—three good translations of the Greek. If you just take Jesus’ words on this at face value (always a good policy that too few Bible readers follow these days!) it doesn’t seem tough to figure out His issue. Old Testament worship’s supposed to be a festival holiday—a chance to eat and drink with God and thus receive bountifully His gifts of forgiveness, life, salvation—health for body and soul. The tithes Israel brought were re-gifting—giving back to God what He’d already given because they’d noticed that whatever they gave back to God, like Abraham with Isaac a few weeks ago, God returned in an unexpectedly fantastic way. He was always turning their bronze to gold, thorns to cypress trees, briers to myrtle trees. (See Kierkegaard on “non-identical repetition” for more on this).

Salvation is simply a great exchange. All of Christianity is about this great exchange: we bring God our sin and He gives us justification by faith in Christ. We bring Him our suffering and woes, and He buries it with Jesus under the cross—to raise it up glorious and grand. He turns our mourning into dancing, as David says so beautifully in Ps. 30. This is God’s great trick in Jesus; and He bids us bring all our stuff to Him for just such a cruciform and marvelous transfiguration. Why, St. Paul promises He will even transform our vile bodies and make them like unto the glorious Body of Jesus, one Day, at Last…

Clearly, this was Jesus’ problem with the merchandise, the marketplace approach to worship: it’s too law-driven and dull and sad. There’s no magic, mystery, wonder—no joy in that! “Bring God your sheep and He’ll forgive you for that shtuff last week, but next week—well; we’re going to need more sheep if you expect Him to make that right.” That’s the dreary old religion of works righteousness and Jesus is sick to death of it, literally. Jesus is exactly like Aslan at the end of C.S. Lewis’ wonderful Narnia book “The Last Battle”. As the Pevensies and their friends and the kings of Narnia stand in Aslan’s country at last (after a terrible battle they all lost, and a train wreck that killed the rest) they look around bewildered but feeling finally that they’re home. And they are delighted, but a little shy; so Aslan says “You don’t yet look as happy as I mean for you to be. Further up and further in…!” And He shoots of like a golden bolt of lightning, laughing, and the children chasing, delightfully—knowing the best chapter of the Story is just beginning and will, this time, never end…

And you’re like “But, Pastor! It didn’t make the people He chased with the whip happy!” Well, it makes me happy, every time I read it. Very happy. When David killed the trash-talking giant Goliath, the look on big ugly’s face as he sank to the ground, stone all buried in his forehead, was a great joy to all Israel! God shows His love for us, again and again in Scriptures, by vanquishing the foes who’ve had free reign over us a while, now. The promise of salvation to Eve is not: “I’ll be nice to everyone, especially to you…” But it’s: “I will put enmity (hate!) between your Seed and the devil’s…” What father would not put to flight the villains who’d harm his child?

The love that Jesus has for us is this sort of love. And the disciples who saw IT did not go: “Wow! Jesus has got a lot to apologize for!” No. They “remembered that it was written ‘Zeal for Your house has eaten Me up’.” (Ps. 69:9) And that verse continues “The reproaches of those who reproach you have fallen on Me.” Jesus clears the temple of all Israel’s sacrificial animals so there’s only One left to kill and He’s happy to be that Lamb, for us…

Christianity is pure receiving this gift of the Lamb’s self-offering. Sin has bent us so that we have trouble freely receiving. We kind of hate justification by faith. We’d prefer to have a hand in it so we can take credit for it. And Jesus will smack that hand, real hard, even with a whip! Because He loves us and death would swallow us up forever. So He drives out all thought of our helping, our doing—does it all Himself; so that at His Table, feasting on Him, His zeal would eat us up, and Peace surpassing understanding guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.


Advent Vespers – Wednesdays, 7:00 p.m.

16 December 2018  3rd Sunday Advent

8:30 Matins

11:00 Divine Service with Communion

9:45 Sunday School – children ages 3 through high school

Adult Bible Class with Pastor Martin


Our Savior Lutheran Church is a confessional Lutheran church in Raleigh, North Carolina, belonging to the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod.

We are located at: 1500 Glenwood Avenue, Raleigh, NC 27608.

For directions, use 742 Nash Street, Raleigh.